Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a flair for the dramatic when it comes to his ability to play despite injuries that would keep most people on the sideline in civvies. But after suffering a sprained shoulder in Monday night's win over the Chiefs on what looked to be a garden-variety sack, Big Ben's prospects for playing Sunday against the Ravens are somewhere between slim and none.
Which means that backup Byron Leftwich, who played all but one series in the second half against the Chiefs, would make his first start since Week 3 of the 2009 season when he was with the Buccaneers.
Leftwich completed 7 of 14 passes for 73 yards Monday night and was hit nearly every time he dropped back. Which brings us to this: Even though coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Leftwich would play if Roethlisberger couldn't, it should be Charlie Batch under center when Pittsburgh hosts Baltimore in five days.
Yes, Batch is 37 and slightly more durable than Mr. Glass. But he's also fared well in spot duty during his 10 years with the Steelers, most recently a 27-0 win over an admittedly shabby Rams team late last season. Batch also went 2-1 in 2010 while Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension, the loss coming against the Ravens thanks to a fourth-quarter Joe Flacco game-winning drive. (Batch replaced Dennis Dixon in Week 2 but did most of the heavy lifting in that game so we're awarding him the win even though he didn't get the start.)
In 2005, Batch started twice for an injured Roethlisberger and went 2-0 with wins over the Packers and Browns.
All told, Batch is 5-2 and more than that, his style is a better fit for this new-look Steelers offense under Todd Haley. Although not a true West Coast scheme, it does possess elements of the West Coast: three- and five-step drops, quick throws to speedy wide receivers that complement the running game, and less of an emphasis on the deep passing game.
Up till the third quarter of the Chiefs game, it did wonders for Roethlisberger's health. In previous years he was routinely one of the league's most-sacked quarterbacks because of the long-developing plays favored by then-coordinator Bruce Arians coupled with a suspect offensive line. Through eight games in 2012, Big Ben was sacked much less frequently and on two occasions he wasn't sacked at all.
When you compare Batch to Leftwich, several things stick out. For starters, Batch has better touch on the now-favored short and intermediate routes. And although he doesn't possess Leftwich's cannon, he can air it out when he has to.
Perhaps most importantly, Batch doesn't look like he's wearing cement moon boots when he drops back to pass. Leftwich redefines what it means to be a pocket passer mostly because of his immobility. It's exacerbated by a windup that has him bringing the ball below his waist before he gets around to throwing it. That's not an issue when you're trying to throw someone out from center field in the Steelers' annual August softball game but it's problematic in an offense that relies on short, quick passes.
And as long as we're keeping score: since the Jaguars cut Leftwich in 2006, he's made five starts -- two with the Falcons and three with the Bucs. He's 0-5.
One thing that's not up for debate: Leftwich might be the toughest player in the league. His one-legged performance at Marshall is the stuff of legend and there's an urban myth that while growing up in Washington, D.C., he was hit by a car. Twice.
If Arians was still in Pittsburgh and the Steelers were going deep seven or eight times a game, Leftwich would probably be a better short-term fit in Roethlisberger's absence. But in Haley's dink-and-dunk scheme (Ben's words, not ours -- and he means it affectionately), Batch seems like a no-brainer.
CBSSports.com's Clark Judge agrees: "The Steelers won with [Batch] before, and they can win with him again -- especially with the offense evolving into more of a short-to-middle yardage passing attack. His experience is critical. So is his pocket awareness and ability to move. And he might have to ... into the starting position. That's OK. He's been there before."
Of course, it doesn't matter what we think; Tomlin said Leftwich will go if Big Ben can't. And based on the severity of Roethlisberger's injury, the Steelers' postseason hopes will depend in large part on Tomlin's decision.
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